Are Managers Holding Experts Back from Adding More Value?

Nearly nine out of ten experts said they could add more value to their organisation if given the opportunity. When asked what was getting in the way, the top answer was ‘poor management’.

Are leaders of experts holding their technical gurus back? Or are experts blaming management for failings of their own?

Most large organisations depend on large numbers of professional experts to keep their enterprises running. Many of these experts are at the front line of adding competitive advantage or increasing community impact.

Subject matter experts are not just technical people. They include legal specialists, data-and IT professionals, engineers and financial analysts. The list of specialist expert roles is varied and almost limitless.

Most of these experts are frustrated, because they often feel they are not being listened to. They really want to add more value, but feel they are being ignored and that their expertise is undervalued. In Expertunity’s 2018 survey of hundreds of experts from various fields, 87% said they were willing and able to add more value to their organisations but felt constrained from doing so.

Why is this? The survey results suggest the vast majority feel disenfranchised. They are not listened to, and the investment they and their organisation have made in their skills is undervalued.

Experts feel that their leaders and managers don’t recognise their abilities. Often they even feel that their managers actively discourage or disregard their input.

Yet these same managers are responsible for the experts’ well-being, engagement and effectiveness. Are they really ignoring experts’ opinions and skills, or are the experts themselves failing to engage and influence in a timely and effective manner?

The answer is a bit of both.

On the one hand, leaders often fail to invite their experts to be part of the broader business conversation. They assume that the experts’ only interest or value lies in their technical or specialist contributions.

But it is also the case that experts often don’t help themselves, by not fully understanding the larger business context. And it doesn’t help when they often use specialised technical language or don’t speak in terms of business outcomes.

At Expertunity we work with hundreds of experts each year. We see these problems first-hand. Many experts over-invest in the growth of their technical capabilities, but significantly under invest in the growth of their enterprise and business skills. This means they fail to communicate, engage, and add value as much as they could. This means they have a blind spot, believing that this their manager’s fault.

But leaders of experts are also complicit, because they don’t invest in helping experts build the enterprise skills that would resolve most of these issues.

An enterprise skills capability framework for experts

Over the last four years, we at Expertunity have learned that experts’ technical capabilities can be swiftly complemented with enterprise skills. These skills are stakeholder engagement strategies, influencing skills, consulting and advisory skills, emotional intelligence, market context and others. These skills are captured and described in The Expertship Model.

When we first started our development of experts, we thought that a model setting out the entire set of capabilities that experts need would already exist. We were shocked to discover that there was no such framework. So we built one. We needed a model that takes into account experts’ particular needs and challenges.

Most organisations have defined capability frameworks for their people leaders, but not for their experts. Now there is a similar framework for experts.

Experts we’ve worked with have found The Expertship Model very useful in defining the additional approaches they can take in order to increase their impact and influence. The most frequently selected enterprise skills that experts work on in our programs and with our coaches are:

* Making a shift from simply responding to inbound requests for their services to proactively shaping the business.

* Proactively networking with targeted stakeholders across and beyond the organisation.

* Building emotional intelligence and people skills – listening, influencing, building trust, courageous conversations, etc.

Managers of experts have also found the framework helpful for setting expectations with their experts, It can be used to show that both strong technical capability and enterprise skills (and business contributions) are needed.

This is then reflected in position descriptions, annual appraisal frameworks and incentive structures. We have also created an Expertship Growth Guide to assist experts and managers identify performance objectives and development plans.

Participants in Expertunity’s Mastering Expertship program undertake an intensive workshop. They receive detailed feedback and work with a coach after the program to rapidly build and execute strategies and capabilities for increasing their influence and impact.

They learn to proactively engage with targeted stakeholders and add more value (perceived and actual) through greater alignment with organisational priorities. This means they can evolve their personal and professional brands accordingly.

Leaders notice the changes. Frustrations subside. The results are living proof that investing in building enterprise skills in experts is a win/win proposition.

ALISTAIR GORDON is CEO and Founder at Expertunity, and a master facilitator of the signature program for technical experts, Mastering Expertship. He is co-author of the Expertship Growth Guide, and the forthcoming Master Expert.